More than 10 million people currently reside in North Carolina. At least 19% of all North Carolinians are currently aged 50-64 (2,029,594 residents). That age is when the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program’s rules relax, making it easier to qualify for benefits! However, just 2.9% of the state’s population qualify for the SSDI program’s North Carolina disability benefits. Another 2% get North Carolina disability payments each month through the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. If a mental or physical condition forces you to stop working, you too may qualify for North Carolina disability. Starting last year, four different programs offer North Carolina disability payments to qualified applicants each month. Learn which programs to apply for based on your work history and current situation below.
North Carolina Disability Benefits: 4 Ways to Apply
You may qualify for monthly cash benefits from one of four different North Carolina disability programs shown below. The Social Security Administration (SSA) manages the first two federal benefits programs. The last one’s a state-run program for public employees, which includes local government workers as well as teachers. Here are all four programs that provide North Carolina disability benefits to qualified applicants:
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Disability Income Plan of North Carolina (DIP-NC)
- NCFlex State Disability Insurance Plan (Effective January 1, 2020)
North Carolina disability claimants can qualify for SSDI or SSI, but not both federal benefits at the same time. In addition, both federal programs only pay North Carolina disability to those unable to work a minimum of 12 months. The other two programs only provide short and long-term North Carolina disability benefits to eligible teachers and state employees. Keep reading to learn about each program’s eligibility rules, payment amounts and application process.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Who Can Apply, How to Qualify & Pay Amounts
If you work in jobs where you pay Social Security payroll taxes, then you likely have SSDI coverage. That’s because SSDI’s technically a federal disability insurance program designed to protect working-age Americans. Keep reading to learn more about North Carolina disability benefits through the SSDI program.
1. Who Should Apply for SSDI?
If you answer “yes” to every question below, you likely qualify for disability benefits through the SSDI program:
- Have you paid FICA/Social Security taxes while working at least 5 in the last 10 years full-time? Since SSDI is a federal insurance plan, your coverage automatically ends if you stop working for 60 months. That’s why it’s crucial to apply for SSDI within 5 years of becoming too disabled to work. If you haven’t worked recently or enough years to qualify, the SSA automatically denies your claim.
- Are your health problems bad enough to force you take a year off work (or longer)? Your condition must last for at least 12 months or be a terminal illness to qualify for SSDI. In other words, SSDI won’t pay you disability benefits if your symptoms improve any sooner.
- Have you seen a doctor for treatment within the last 3 months? If yes, then great! You’re one step closer to qualifying for SSDI. Otherwise, the SSA must confirm your diagnosis through a Disability Determination Services (DDS) exam. They’re checking that you truly cannot work for at least 12 months, specifically due to your medical condition.
- Are you currently at least 18, but younger than full retirement age? SSDI specifically covers working-age Americans who cannot work anymore because of health issues. Once you reach full retirement age, disability payments through the SSDI program automatically convert into regular Social Security retirement. Read this to learn why nobody can draw Social Security and disability benefits simultaneously.
If can’t meet all these SSDI eligibility requirements, apply for North Carolina disability through the federal SSI program instead.
2. How Long Until Approved SSDI Claims Receive That First Disability Payment?
Six months from your SSDI application date is the soonest you’ll get your first North Carolina disability check. The SSA typically takes about 3-5 months to review every SSDI application for North Carolina disability benefits. That’s because federal law requires a five-month mandatory waiting period prior to depositing any SSDI program payments. Unfortunately, many people wait closer 2 years for their first North Carolina disability check. That’s because they get denied benefits the first time, then finally win after filing an appeal. Having a lawyer file your SSDI application makes you almost 3x more likely to get benefits. Plus, a North Carolina disability lawyer can’t charge you anything until after the SSA approves your claim for benefits. Right now, SSDI applications for North Carolina disability take 410 days to process, on average.
If you decide to chance it on your own and apply without legal assistance, you’ll probably get denied. Right now, the SSA approves just 19% of North Carolina disability applicants on their first try. If that happens, you have 60 days to appeal. Reconsideration is the first appeal stage, and it adds another 100 days to your wait time, on average. At this stage, the SSDI program approves just 2% of claimants. However, you can appeal a second time and plead your case in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
Unfortunately, this is where the longest wait times usually come in. If you’re in Raleigh, expect to wait about 8 months, on average, for your court date to arrive. In Greensboro, you’ll wait about 14 months to plead your case — it all just depends on where you live. If your case wins, it’s about two years’ wait between your SSDI application date and your first payment!
3. How Much SSDI Money Can North Carolina Disability Applicants Qualify for Each Month?
In 2022, the SSDI program’s maximum monthly disability payment is $3,345. However, the amount you receive entirely depends on your monthly paychecks earned while you were working. Nationwide, disabled workers currently receive $1,358/month in SSDI benefits, on average. The only way to increase your benefit amounts is through an annual cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) increase.
4. Are Payments Made Through the SSDI Program Permanent?
The SSDI program does not pay anyone permanent disability benefits. Instead, must confirm you’re still too disabled to work every 3-7 years after you’re approved. If you don’t fill out and return your update paperwork on time, your North Carolina disability payments stop coming. This continues until you reach your full retirement age (FRA). Everyone’s FRA is different, and it’s based on your birth month and year. Once that happens, the SSA automatically converts disability into regular Social Security retirement benefits. Your monthly pay amount won’t change. You also don’t need to file additional paperwork to make this happen.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI): Who Can Apply, How to Qualify & Pay Amounts
Anyone who hasn’t worked in the right jobs or enough years may qualify for SSI-based North Carolina disability benefits. The federal SSI program is needs-based, and makes payments to eligible blind and disabled applicants aged 64 and younger. (The program also pays monthly benefits to claimants aged 65 and up that can meet all financial eligibility requirements.) Below, we’ll explain how the SSI program screens North Carolina disability applicants, payment amounts and more.
1. SSI Applicants Younger Than 65 Must Be Blind or Disabled to Qualify
Only blind or disabled SSI applicants who cannot work may qualify for North Carolina disability before their 65th birthday. If you’re already 65 years old when you apply, you can pass the SSI medical screening based on age alone. Otherwise, the SSI program requires a DDS medical exam that must confirm you’re unable to work for health reasons.
2. SSI Claimants Also Need Very Low Income and Few Resources to Qualify
You’ll have to list all monthly income and financial assets on your SSI claim for North Carolina disability benefits. SSI program rules state that any money you get each month counts as income, even if you cannot work. That includes things like alimony or child support payments, interest from a savings account, lottery winnings, TANF, SNAP, etc. In addition, you can’t have more than $2,000 in your bank account when you apply. “Countable assets” include any resources you own now and can easily sell for cash. Examples include your jewelry, property, 401k or IRA accounts, stocks or bonds. Things that never count towards your $2,000 asset limit include:
- Your house (if you own it) and the lot it sits on
- A vehicle (car, truck, motorcycle, boat) you use for daily transportation
- Wedding ring, furniture, clothing or other daily living items (appliances, bedding, towels)
Basically, you won’t qualify for SSI if you own too much stuff or receive too much money every month. Married couples must have less than $3,000 in resources and $1,350 in combined monthly income to qualify for SSI.
3. The Maximum Monthly SSI Payment Is $841/Person, $1,261/Couple
Whenever there’s an annual Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) increase, the SSI program also raises your North Carolina disability payments each month. However, you also must pass routine disability update checks every 3-7 years to keep those monthly payments. As long as your symptoms stay the same or get worse, you’ll keep your North Carolina disability benefits. Once you turn 65, the SSI program stops requiring these disability status check-ins every so often. You still need to pass the program’s financial eligibility requirements, of course. But as long as you do that, you’ll keep getting North Carolina disability payments from SSI for life.
How Teachers & State Employees May Qualify for Disability Income Plan of North Carolina (DIP-NC) Benefits
Eligible employees participating in the Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System (TSERS) or Optional Retirement Program (ORP) may qualify for DIP-NC benefits. Working at least 30 hours per week for 9+ months each calendar year makes you an eligible employee. However, you cannot apply for DIP-NC benefits until you’ve been a TSERS or ORP member for one full year. Here’s what you need to know:
- The DIP-NC program enforces a 60-day mandatory waiting period before you can draw STD benefits. You can use any available sick, personal or bonus leave days during this 60-day wait.
- DIP-NC’s STD benefits last up to 365 days once your 60-day waiting period ends. If your medical condition lasts longer, apply for extended short-term disability benefits. Extended STD benefits are payable for 12 more months at the same rate, if approved.
- Short-term North Carolina disability benefits are 50% of your monthly paycheck after taxes. Your first six months of STD payments are still subject to FICA (Social Security) taxes. DIP-NC program rules say you cannot receive more than $3,000/month in initial or extended STD payments.
- Only TSERS or ORP employees with five years of membership service are eligible for LTD benefits. Fully vested employees may qualify for long-term disability once their STD benefits end.
- LTD benefits are 65% of your monthly paycheck amount and are payable for up to 36 months. The max monthly payment in long-term North Carolina disability from the DIP-NC program is $3,900.
- If you’re permanently disabled and cannot work before reaching full retirement age, apply for Social Security disability. Some TSERS or ORP members may qualify for up to $3,345/month in reduced benefits after their 36-month LTD period.
For more information, read the DIP-NC Member Handbook.
How Eligible Employees Qualify for North Carolina’s NCFlex Disability Insurance Plan Benefits in 2022
NCFlex provides both short-term and long-term North Carolina disability benefits to all eligible employees. This NCFlex coverage isn’t mandatory, so be sure to enroll as soon as you’re eligible! Important: The NCFlex plan does not cover any employees working in the University of North Carolina system. If health problems force you to stop working, you must apply for disability through your DIP-NC plan instead.
For everyone else, here’s what you need to know:
- Only full-time, active employees of a state agency, select community college or charter school can enroll in NCFlex’s disability plan. You must work at least 30 hours per week to count as a full-time employee under the NCFlex plan’s rules.
- Short-term disability benefits through the NCFlex plan begin once your mandatory 14-day waiting period passes. NCFlex’s short-term North Carolina disability benefits last until the 60th day after you stop working.
- You can receive up to $150/day, or up to $750/week in short-term disability benefits. NCFlex pays STD benefits each week. If you also receive workers’ comp or Social Security benefits, they won’t reduce your STD payment amount.
- The NCFlex plan’s long-term North Carolina disability payments start on day 61. If your condition makes you permanently unable to work again, LTD payments can last until your full retirement age (FRA).
- LTD payments equal 66 2/3% of your monthly paycheck amount while working. The maximum amount you can receive in monthly LTD payments is $12,500 per month.
For more information on the NCFlex plan’s North Carolina disability benefits, download this booklet today.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Professional legal assistance make you nearly 3x as likely to get approved for North Carolina disability benefits. A North Carolina disability lawyer is your best bet for getting your SSDI or SSI claim approved quickly. Every Social Security attorney in our network offers free, no-obligation legal consultations to North Carolina disability applicants. They also work on contingency, so you’ll pay the lawyer $0 unless they help you win North Carolina disability benefits. And if you do win, you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online benefits evaluation now!
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.